Old King Carl, Part 1: Carl William Besserer, Founder of the Modern Austin Music Scene

June 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

(The following text is excerpted from one of my forthcoming books, If You Can’t Dance, Get On and Ride: The Jazz Age in Austin. And this one’s for you, Randy.)

Carl William Besserer is largely unknown today, and undeservingly so, considering the role he played in Austin music history. This post is the start of his rehabilitation.

While America’s Jazz Age is generally conceded to encompass the years 1918-29, the Jazz Age in Austin was born in the summer of 1917 and was buried in the fall of 1931.

At the dawn of Austin’s Jazz Age, the city’s reigning king of live music was Carl William Besserer; whose reign lasted the better part of 50 years. And, ironically, this guardian of Austin’s old musical ways, and leader against the onslaught of jazz music, turned out to be, unwittingly, one of the prime enablers of the jazz music scene in Austin. Jazz music blitzkrieged Austin like Redneck Rock did 50 years later.

Carl William Besserer was born in New Braunfels in 1851, the son of German immigrants who had come to Texas the year before. Besserer’s father died 3 months before his birth. He was then adopted by John Buass, proprietor of Buass Hall, Austin’s first grand music hall. Buass sent Besserer to Germany at age 14 for his higher education. When he came back to Austin at the end of the Civil War, there were very few musicians among the citizenry. There were but a handful of pianos, and most of them were old, out of tune, and in serious need of repair.

In 1868, John Buass and Carl William Besserer opened Austin’s first music store, Buass and Besserer, which stocked a wide variety of instruments and sheet music. With this store, a new era in Austin music began, one that would last 50 years, until jazz came along and changed everything.

Besserer, a trained musician, was eager to teach his customers how to play their new instruments and so he began giving lessons.

A talented pianist, Besserer got a few local boys interested in forming a band and orchestra, thus making him the father of Austin garage bands. The boys worked or went to school by day, and learned how to play music at night on entry-level instruments, under Besserer’s patient and unflagging tutelage. Finally, they were playing well enough to attract new recruits, and then some paying gigs, which allowed them to buy better instruments.

Besserer’s band and orchestra became locally celebrated. Besserer also directed a state military band. He helped found the Austin Saengerrunde, or singing society, for the singing of German songs in 1879. After the University of Texas opened in 1883, UT students would help spread their reputation statewide, and soon they played in cities across the state.

Despite this whirlwind of activity, he still found time to fall in love and marry August Scholz’s daughter Mary in 1873.

Founded just before the Civil War, or in 1866, depending on which source you believe, August Scholz’s Garden is Austin’s oldest business, the oldest beer garden in the state of Texas, and the only survivor of Austin’s great nineteenth century beer gardens.

“Seventy years ago, Scholz’s Garden was the pride of Austin, and the city’s fashionables used to gather there on summer evenings to blow the foam off their steins and listen to the band or watch theatrical performances,” wrote future first lady of the United States Claudia “Bird” Taylor in October 1931, in the Daily Texan. “For two generations, Scholz’s Garden was the favorite haunt of Texas legislators – those bearded worthies gathering there for much merrymaking.”

At some point after the end of the Civil War, Scholz built Scholz’s Hall, which still stands today, much altered, as Saengerrunde Hall. On February 24, 1871, Scholz Hall hosted a “Grand Vocal and Instrumental Concert.” One of the show’s featured performers was William Besserer, pianist.

The garden was walled in and tables placed under the trees, which at night were hung with colored lights. At one end was the bandstand, where William Besserer, who had studied in Germany under the great Leopold Damrosch, led the lively music nightly. World travelers said that Scholz Garden was the most typical German beer garden they had encountered in the New World.

“The hall, whose wide doors opened into the garden, was built of white limestone. It had shuttered windows and doors, with sidelights to the floor. The stage was in the east end when the hall was built. The bar at the back, complete with the well-known rail and the mirror above it, has never been changed – except that the years have added dust and cobwebs,” Claudia Taylor wrote.

About the time the Austin Saengerrunde was founded and the Germania Society affiliated with Scholz Garden, the brick part of the hall was built and another bar, more accessible to the street was added (Presumably the Scholz Garden bar room of today), according to Taylor. After the Saengerrunde Society bought the property in 1909, the old bar at the back of the hall was kept for the use of members on Sundays when the public bar was closed.

At the time Taylor wrote the article, the Saengerrunde Hall was the home of the Austin Little Theater, which was presenting George Bernard Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell” at the time.

Austin, which was founded by intellectuals and artists, had an amateur band as early as 1840, just a few months after its beginning. Houston and Galveston had enjoyed traveling professional entertainers from their beginnings, owing to their convenient locations on the Texas coast. Austin, on the other hand, reachable only by an often harrowing overland journey of several weeks from the coast, had to provide its own entertainment. Austin’s homegrown music scene faded, along with most of the population, beginning with the removal of the Capitol to Houston and Mexican troubles of 1842. But the local music scene began to revive a bit with Texas statehood and with vigor after the Civil War.

Soon after the Civil War’s end, Henry Klotz, who would later teach at the Texas School for the Blind, organized an eight-man string band. At about the same time, the German community in Austin organized a brass band.

George Herzog took charge of the brass band in 1870 and that year the string and brass bands united to play a benefit show for the Franco-Prussian War orphans. Herzog would later form his own orchestra.

On January 4, 1876, a grand concert was given at the Opera House under the management of William Besserer and about 25 of Austin’s best musicians.

Besserer helped found the Austin Musical Union in 1882, which would take over a former “opera house” of iniquity and turn it into one of Austin’s premiere venues for a few years, complete with electric lights and large, swinging fans. The Musical Union presented family-oriented entertainment, usually light opera and operettas. The union even took one such show, HMS Pinafore, to the Threadgill’s Opera House in nearby Taylor.

During an entertainment given by the Musical Union on June 29, 1882, union members formed in a circle on the stage, and proffered the gift of a handsome diamond ring to its musical director, Professor Besserer, as a token of appreciation of Besserer’s services as manager. He was taken completely by surprise, as the matter had been kept a profound secret from him.

Besserer took over management of Scholz Garden in 1885. Scholz Garden opened its 1885 season with a grand open air concert on April 30 featuring the celebrated Kemps Ladies Orchestra, in the newly enlarged garden that had been also improved to a first-class park.

At the end of June, the Tyroleans began an extended stand at Scholz Garden. Nearly 800 showed up for opening night and were delighted with the program, which included zither and xylophone solos, and national dances in elaborate costumes. The Tyroleans sang English-language and German songs there every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Visitors had to identify themselves through some member of Germania Society.

At that time, Scholz Garden boasted of being the “Most Popular Pleasure Resort in Austin,” and guaranteed a free Grand Concert every Sunday evening in the summer. In 1886, the Daily Statesman lent credence to this boast when it noted that “Scholz Garden is well patronized, especially on Sunday evenings.” Scholz’s even ran its own street cars to and from the grounds on special occasions.

The German Theater continued to present plays in Scholz’s Hall, often accompanied with fireworks and balloon ascensions, even a one-legged tightrope walker! A typical Garden Theater Sunday program would consist of six or seven operatic specialty numbers and a two-act comedy, such as Promise at the Hearth.

When August Scholz died in 1891, Scholz Garden became the property of daughter Mary and son-in-law William Besserer. They ran the place another two years before selling the operation to the Lemp Brewery of Saint Louis, which was seeking market share for its newly introduced brew. Breweries could own retail liquor establishments back then, and Besserer wanted to spend more time on his music. His orchestra continued to give Sunday afternoon concerts there.

(To be continued)


DAYS OF BEER AND PRETZELS: A beer-garden history of Austin

June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

This essay has been in the O. Henry section of richardzelade.com for quite awhile, but recently the German-Texan Heritage Society asked permission to reprint it in their quarterly journal, which I gladly granted. I am about to launch into a several-part series on Carl William Besserer, the most important person in Austin music history, so I thought it apropos to reprint this essay here.

The 1880s and the 1890s were the golden age of live entertainment in Austin, before the siren songs of the phonograph, moving pictures, radio, TV, and Wing Commander began to lure the masses away from fresh entertainment to canned entertainment. Leisure time was among the many miracles of the marvelous new industrial age that came to Austin after the Civil War, and Austinites wanted diversion: song, dance, drama, comedy, daredevils, freaks, blaring horns and big bass drums, lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Austin culture had a decidedly German flavor in those days; the German immigrants who poured into Texas brought their love of food, drink, and the arts with them and soon began rebuilding their Old World social structures out here on the Texas frontier: churches, schools, social and sports clubs, bands and choirs, and beer gardens.

The first German singing society in Texas, Germania Verein, was organized in New Braunfels in 1851. In 1852, German settlers in Austin formed the Austin Maennerchor, or Mens’ Choir. In 1853, the two groups got together via horseback in New Braunfels for a Saengerfest, or singing festival. Where there’s German singing, there’s also beer, so a good time was had by all. In 1854, a statewide federation of German singing clubs was formed, as singing societies sprouted up across the state like the wild mushrooms the Germans used to hunt back in the old country.

All the singing came to a screeching halt with the start of the Civil War, and the Saengerfests didn’t resume again until 1877. After postponing the 1878 Saengerfest because of a yellow fever scare, Austin hosted the 1879 statewide Saengerfest, which was the greatest and most stupendous musical event Austin had yet witnessed, and a precursor to Austin’s current, annual South By Southwest Music Conference. A triple triumphal arch was built across Congress Avenue and Pecan Street. Groups came from across Texas and from neighboring states. A grand nighttime torchlight parade snaked through the downtown streets. Concerts were given at the Millet Opera House on E. 9th (See Congress Avenue Walking Tour.). A grand banquet was served at Turner Hall, now the Ben Hur Shrine Temple at 18th and Lavaca. Germania Hall, now the Saengerrunde Hall next to Scholz’s Garden at 17th and San Jacinto, hosted the business meeting.

Visitors climbed to the top of Mount Bonnell to drink in the view and everybody took a special train from the International and Great Northern Depot on Congress Avenue out to Pressler’s Garden for music, singing, and dancing. Orchestras from as far away as Saint Louis and New Orleans provided music for the Grand Ball at the Opera House and for the various parades, processions, and garden programs.

Currently, Austin boasts of being the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” Dozens of groups play in dozens of clubs on any given night. But Austin clubs, which seldom offer more than booze and ballads, are small beer compared to the pleasure resorts that were Austin’s beer gardens 100 years ago.

Buaas Garden, Pressler’s Garden, Scholz’s Garden, Jacoby’s Garden, and Bulian’s Garden were social centers of the capital city. “They were mighty fine places,” one aging patron fondly reminisced in 1937. “The beer gardens of the old days were places where you went to drink pleasantly, not to get drunk. You took the family along. And the food they had! You don’t know what good food is these days!”

You didn’t have to be a German to enjoy Austin’s beer gardens–folks of all stripes came and went–but it sure helped, at least when it came to understanding the words of the songs. But beer is a universal language, as are fireworks and parades and other spectacles, of which the gardens had a bumper crop.

A typical Scholz’s Garden or Pressler’s Garden Sunday afternoon extravaganza in the 1880s might include a concert by a touring orchestra from Germany, fireworks, hot-air balloon ascensions, tightrope walkers, marching bands and military drill teams, plus bowling and other games and amusements. Originally much larger than it is now, Scholz’s Garden featured a bubbling spring, fountains, a bowling alley, a menagerie with bears, deer, alligators and parrots, two outdoor stages for concerts and plays, and, of course, lots of shade, tables, and beer. Scholz’s dinners were legendary, with ham, roast beef, jellied fish, herring salad, potato salad, bean salad, chili, and every other kind of vegetable imaginable, plus cake for dessert, all for 75 cents. Mrs. Scholz and her family spent all week preparing them. The extended Scholz family lived in houses scattered around the fringes of the beer garden.

Scholz’s Hall, which adjoined the beer garden, hosted many community activities: political rallies, social club meetings, plays, concerts, weddings, balls, dances, and dinners. It’s said that Austin’s most infamous and best-liked city marshal, Ben Thompson, celebrated at Scholz’s after his acquittal in San Antonio on murder charges, shortly before he would die in an 1884 San Antonio gun battle. Today, Scholz’s Garden is Austin’s oldest business, the oldest beer garden in the state of Texas, and the only survivor of Austin’s great nineteenth century beer gardens.

August Scholz was born in 1825 and moved to Austin in 1860, where he soon settled on the block bounded by San Jacinto, 17th, Trinity, and 16th Streets. For a brief time, Scholz boarded German immigrants who were waiting to get their homestead grants processed, but the Civil War soon put an end to German immigation to Texas and thus to Scholz’s business. On October 1, 1862, he bought the entire block on which Scholz Garden now stands from Swante Swenson and immediately established Scholz’s Garden. The first building on the property was a three-room log cabin. At some point after the end of the Civil War, Scholz built Scholz’s Hall, which still stands today, much altered, as Saengerrunde Hall. We don’t know exactly when Scholz’s Hall was finished, but we have a good idea; its first written mention comes on February 24, 1871, when it hosted a “Grand Vocal and Instrumental Concert.” This wasn’t Scholz’s first fling in showbiz; his “Deutsch Theater” had operated out of Buaas Hall from 1865 to 1871. In June 1872, the opera Preciosa was staged in Scholz’s Hall. It starred Madame Marie Methue-Scheller.

Buaas Hall and Garden, located in the 400 block of old Pecan Street, opened in July 1860, making it the first of Austin’s great entertainment centers. The Austin Gazette celebrated the new hall’s arrival:

The New Hall Ready–Just the Place Needed–John L. Buaas takes pleasure in informing his friends and the public generally that his New Hall will be opened on the 21st, inst., where he will be fully prepared to accommodate Balls, Parties, Theaters, Public Meetings and Exhibitions of every description. The Hall has been built expressly to meet the wants of the community, is fitted up with elegant seats, and lighted Peters’ Patent Gas Lamps, and will be found the largest, best arranged and neatest of any public room in the City.

Connected with the above is an elegant seven octave Piano, with the latest improvements, for use of Balls, Parties, etc.

There is also a large refreshment Saloon where a fine supper can be served up at short notice.

The public immediately embraced Buaas Hall and Garden, and the newspapers told of many events that took place there in following years. With the end of the Civil War, Buaas completely remodeled the hall and it became Republican Party headquarters. This left Buaas Hall and Garden tainted in the eyes of Democrats, who regained power in Texas in 1874. This paradigm shift spelled Buaas’ demise, along with commercial development along old Pecan Street, which drove property values up and made the Buaas property too valuable to remain a beer garden. In its place, in 1875, went up the three present buildings at 401-405 E. 6th.

August Scholz cast his lot with the Democratic Party and prospered. The Democratic and Greenback parties began meeting in Scholz’s Hall soon after its completion. Scholz served as Austin city councilman from 1873-75; he also bought and sold real estate and dabbled in the printing business. In May 1878, the Daily Democratic Stateman accused Scholz and other Austin businessmen of improprieties with a state-owned printing press located at the state Deaf and Dumb Asylum. That same year, Scholz served as an election officer.

Scholz’s Garden’s ties with the University of Texas go back to the university’s beginnings. Scholz was named an official University fundraiser in 1883, and the 1893 UT football team celebrated its first undefeated season there.

Take a look at the 1893 team photo that still hangs in Scholz’s Garden and you’ll what prompted Will Porter (O. Henry) to quip, in an 1894 issue of The Rolling Stone, “Newcomers to Texas are warned to beware of the long-haired citizen. He may be only a desperado, but it might be discovered, when too late, that he is a football player.” Nowadays he plays rugby for the Austin Huns.

Porter, who could drain a 32 oz. fishbowl of beer without pausing, was well acquainted with Austin’s beer gardens and their patrons. He summed up the two loves of his life once, in four lines:

“If there is a rosebud garden of girls,

In this wide world anywhere,

They could have no charm for some of the men,

Like a buttercup garden of beer.”

Porter had a bass voice of some charm, and the group he sang with, the Hill City Quartette, sang all over Austin. His wife, Athol, sang regularly at concerts at Scholz’s and Presslers’ and Jacoby’s Gardens, under the direction of William Besserer, the father of music in Austin.

Carl William Besserer was born in New Braunfels in 1851, the son of German immigrants who had come to Texas the year before. Besserer’s father died 3 months before his birth. Besserer went to Germany at age 14 for his higher education. When he settled in Austin in 1869, there were very few musicians among the citzenry. Pianos were few, and many of them were old, out of tune, and in serious need of repair. Besserer opened a music store and began giving lessons. A talented pianist, Besserer got a few local boys interested in forming a band and orchestra. They worked by day, and learned how to play music at night on inferior instruments, under Besserer’s patient and unflagging tutelage. Finally, they were playing well enough to attract new recruits, and then some paying gigs, which allowed them to buy better instruments. Besserer’s band and orchestra became locally celebrated. UT students helped spread their reputation statewide, and soon they played in cities across the state. Besserer’s Orchestra played at governors’ inaugurations, during presidential visits, when troops were sent off to war, and when they came back for burial. When Lake Austin became the scene of boating parties about 1891, he directed the band that furnished the music. He also provided the musical programs for the Ben Hur river boat excursions that were so popular before the dam broke in 1900. Besserer also directed a state military band. A talented pianist, he helped found the Austin Saengerrunde, or singing society, for the singing of German songs in 1879.

Despite this whirlwind of activity, he still found time to fall in love and marry August Scholz’s daughter Mary in 1873. In 1885, Besserer took over management of Scholz’s Garden. At that time, Scholz’s Garden boasted of being the “Most Popular Pleasure Resort in Austin,” and guaranteed a free Grand Concert every Sunday evening in the summer. Scholz’s even ran its own street cars to and from the grounds on special occasions. In 1886, the Daily Statesman lent credence to this boast when it noted that “Scholz Garden is well patronized, especially on Sunday evenings.” The Tyroleans, a singing group, sang English-language and German songs there every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The German Theater continued to present plays in Scholz’s Hall, often accompanied with fireworks and balloon ascencions, even a one-legged tightrope walker! A typical Garden Theater Sunday program would consist of six or seven operatic specialty numbers and a two-act comedy, such as Promise at the Hearth. Click here to see advertisements for Scholz’s Garden from the 1880s.

Austinites had a wealth of entertainment options to choose from. Let’s take a look at Sunday, June 26, 1887. Scholz’s Garden featured a free Grand Concert by Professor Herzog’s Orchestra at 7 pm. George Herzog, who founded Herzog’s Orchestra in 1873, was a local musical luminary whom Will Porter loved to poke fun at.

For 10 cents a head, Pressler’s Garden offered an afternoon Grand Balloon Ascension and tight-rope walking by the renowned Professor De Ivey, “Whose areal (sic) voyages to the clouds have earned for him the title of Cloud King, will make an ascension in his monster air ship, one of the largest ever inflated, 150 ft. in circumference.” The Manning Rifle Band was also in attendance. Dancing until midnight in the pavilion followed. When the band wasn’t playing, someone turned the crank of a giant music box so that the music never stopped.

Pressler’s Garden, located at 1327 W. 6th, at Pressler, near the Treaty Oak, was built in connection with the Pressler Brewery. Shade by large live oaks, the Garden spread from 6th St. down to the river, with the bandstand in the center. There was a boating house by the river, a rifle club, an alligator pit, and the pavillion. You could play croquet, or just sit and swing. Pressler’s most memorable character was Schwammel, the head cook, whose vast beard grew down to his waist. Click here to see an advertisement for Pressler’s Garden from the 1880s. As I mentioned recently on another day’s posting, the first recorded use of the phrase, “ice cold beer,” in Austin occurred in May 1880. Pressler’s, under the management of Charley Dyer, not only offered ice cold beer but “secluded nooks for spooning.” During the early 1880s, the Austin Fire Department celebrated several San Jacinto days there (San Jacinto Day was also the date of AFD’s founding.)

While Pressler’s brewery succumbed to competition with national beers like Budweiser, the Garden fell prey to subdivision as the city grew westward, and closed as World War I began.

Austin’s famous dam created beautiful Lake McDonald (now Lake Austin). It was the perfect spot for a beer garden, and so Walsh’s Garden and Picnic Grounds opened about 1895, two blocks above the dam. It promised “fine lunches, cool fresh beer, lemonade, soda, etc.” and guaranteed “Perfect Order Always Prevails.” Manager Dick Bulian soon took over the garden and renamed it Bulian’s Garden. As such, Bulian’s Garden figured largely in the famous March 2, 1897, uprising of the UT Law School’s student body. Annoyed at having to attend classes on the most sacred of Texas holidays, they vowed to celebrate anyway and started their celebration of Texas Independence Day with a bang. The law students, led by such future political heavyweights as Senator Tom Connally, Senator Morris Sheppard, and Governor Pat Neff, fired off two old cannon on the football field. At noon, the president of the university caved in and dismissed the entire student body for the day. The fizz gone from their rebellion, the laws repaired to Bulian’s Garden to revive their spirits. Bulian’s Garden closed a year or so later, as Bulian moved back to Congress Avenue to open the Popular Saloon and Chop House.

Jacoby’s Garden, conveniently close at 15th and Lavaca, was another UT student haunt. During the 1890s, you could get a shave, hair cut, and a hot bath at Jacoby’s, in addition to a hot meal, cold beer and ice cream. (Its founder, Walter Jacoby, was a barber.) A famous law school jingle went, “The junior law comes down to school, But doesn’t get very far Until Jacoby catches him And admits him to the bar.” “Alexander Frederick Clair,” a wooden statue that became the patron saint of UT engineering students in 1908, was found discarded under Jacoby’s front stairs by students.

One of Jacoby’s annual rites was the wein probe, or wine testing. On an arranged date foreign wine representatives would arrive at Jacoby’s, which was filled with Austin’s leading citizens. They would gather and solemnly sample the fine wines, then lay in their supply for the winter. Fathers brought sons along to learn the art of wine. Jacoby’s annual oyster roast was also greatly anticipated. Jacoby’s closed a year or two before Pressler’s Garden.

The Germans seldom let a little thing like Sunday blue laws get in the way of Sunday afternoon beer drinking. In June 1881, Scholz was convicted of violating the Sunday blue law against liquor sales and was fined $20. There were other ways around the blue laws, as Will Porter observed in The Rolling Stone: “Most of the saloons now get a bonafide close on their every Sunday, and the chaser of the merry jaglet must needs fortify himself Saturday night or become a member of the Singenderinkeneinmehrfritzgehaben Society.”

In a little poem entitled “Unsusceptible,” Porter zinged the German singers:

How many dimes my Lena’s heart

I’ve dried to catch by singing.

It seems dot all my highest art

No nearer her is pringing.

Though oft I soar above High A

Und tremulo and quiver

She says if I don’t cease my lay

She’ll jump right in dot river.

Und ven I sing to her my best

Und vith my voice surprise her

She says “Dis is no Saengerfest,

Let’s open dot Budweiser.”

The annual spring arrival of Anheuser Busch Bock beer was highly anticipated in saloons and beer gardens all over town, shipped in from St. Louis by refrigerated rail car.

Formation of the Austin Saengerrunde in 1879 was the younger generation’s answer to their fathers’ Maennerchor, and contained a women’s chorus and a men’s chorus. At first they practiced in Horst’s Pasture, just south of Memorial Stadium on the UT campus. From there they moved to Jacoby’s Garden and Turner Hall.

About 1892, the Saengerrunde began to slip into its present relationship with Scholz’s Garden, as singing practices bounced back and forth between Jacoby’s, Turner Hall, and now Scholz’s. In 1895, the Saengerrunde subleased the Scholz’s Garden bowling alleys from the Germania Club, which had long headquartered at Scholz’s. In 1901, the Saengerrunde moved permanently to Scholz’s.

When August Scholz died in 1891, the Garden became the property of daughter Mary and son-in-law William Besserer. They ran the place another 2 years before selling the operation to the Lemp Brewery of Saint Louis, which was seeking market share for its newly introduced brew. Breweries could own retail liquor establishments back then, and Besserer wanted to spend more time on his music. His orchestra continued to give Sunday afternoon concerts there. The Garden Theater presented acts like “Slater and Finch, the popular Chicago sketch artists and supporting company presenting a program full of nothing but laughs. This team will appear three times each evening in their celebrated society sketch, ‘The Rehearsal,’ their rural sketch ‘Love at Sight,’ and the most laughable black face act ever put before the public, entitled ‘The Military.'” Adults paid 20 cents to get in, children, 10 cents.

In 1904, the Austin Saengerrunde leased the bowling alleys, and Scholz’s Garden on Sundays. The Saengerrunde became a leading social club in Austin, and the vast majority of its members were nonsinging, “passive” members who enjoyed the ambience and the right to drink beer on blue Sunday. Even Governor Oscar Colquitt belonged to the Austin Saengerrunde. Click here to see a map of the Scholz Garden block in 1900.

In 1908, the Saengerrunde bought the entire Scholz’s Garden complex from the Lemp Brewery. And it has been that way ever since, despite Prohibition and two world wars with Germany. Click here to see a 1910 advertisement for Scholz’s Garden.

After World War II, Scholz’s Garden took on a new life, that of “the cloakroom of the Texas Legislature,” immortalized in Billy Lee Brammer’s 1962 novel The Gay Place as the “Dearly Beloved Beer and Garden Party.” Common wisdom says that the Legislature got about as much work done in the beer garden as it did on Capitol hill, at least until the advent of liquor by the drink in 1974. Only then did the monopoly of Scholz’s Garden on the thirsts of government begin to slacken, as solons gravitated to establishments that served more potent social lubricants.

All of Scholz’s peers passed from the scene decades ago, victims of a growing city, but also of automobiles, phonographs, radio, the movies, and Prohibition.

The Austin beer garden scene enjoyed a brief revival in the 1970s, in the form of the world-famous Armadillo World Headquarters and Beer Garden at Barton Springs Rd. and S. 1st, but the pressures of commercial development turned the AWHQ into a memory at the dawn of 1981 and left Scholz’s Garden alone again as the city’s lone purveyor of gemuetlichkeit, or “good times.”

The Dude Abides

June 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Hey, Dude.” How’d we ever “dude” without ya’?

Google “Dude” and you get just under half-a billion hits. Even “bro,” which is often coupled with “dude” these days in conversation (I use the term “conversation” generously), rates just over 340 million hits.

The term “dude” was first used (as far as we now know) in print in 1870, in Putnam’s Magazine. But 1883 was the year “dude” vogued its way like an army of Oscar Wildes into the American lexicon, as few other words have done before or since.

In 1883 a political cartoon of our refined, well-dressed President, Chester A. Arthur, featured the caption, “According to your cloth you’ve cut your coat, O Dude of all the White House residents; We trust that will help you with the vote, When next we go nominating Presidents.”

Dude’s” first popular use began, as have so many national crazes such as cocaine use (about a year later), in 1883, in New York City. Oscar Wilde had just spent a year lecturing throughout the United States and Canada, creating an “aesthetic” craze” which in turn begat the “dude,” who was described as a “fastidious man.” Many of these aesthetes adopted Wilde’s habit of wearing a sunflower in his jacket lapel buttonhole.

Originally used in reference to the devotees of the “aesthetic” craze, “dude” was later applied to city slickers, especially Easterners vacationing in the West (the first use of “dude ranch” is currently documented in 1921), and subsequently entered surfer and hippie slang.

Its prominence in the English language revived and grew in the 1970s and 1980s. The greatest “dude” of recent times, was, of course, Jeff Bridges’ character in “The Big Lebowski.”

 Austin and the rest of Texas quickly fell under the spell, or spectre, of the “dude,” in 1883, mostly begrudgingly.

In Austin, “dude” debuted in print on April 10, 1883: Several ladies riding in a street car where a “dude” was “spreading himself,” remarked that if the street railway company would attach a Pullman sleeper to the cars, young men (?) could stretch themselves out in a manner more comfortable to their tired, weak intellect and physique, and more decent in the presence of ladies. Boys, keep your feet off the seats when ladies are in.

May 31, 1883

Slang is shortening the luxuriance of language by the substitution of inelegant conciseness. “Dude” is shorter than “dandy” and means more.

June 1, 1883

A dude and a dudelet on the street,

Upon the street so sandy;

The dude he wooed, the dudelet cooed,

And nibbled rose-cream candy.

Lanky dude and dudelet dear,

Lanky dudy dandy.

June 20, 1883

The Dude in Austin.

The word “dude” is of recent coinage, and can only be defined approximately. A dude resembles a man in a great many particulars, though the points of resemblance vary with different localities. It has been suspected for some time that Austin was developing a dude or two, and recent observations lead us to admit that we now have several specimens of this rare struggling for existence in this un-congenial altitude and climate.

The dude in the Crescent city differs from the dude in New York, for the latter class are a cross between a base imitation of London swells and nothing; in New Orleans the dude affects the French, while in Austin he does not affect anything in particular. He dresses in a pair of pants that fit him like a banana peel, except where the legs “flair” out in funnel shape; his shoes are so pointed that he daren’t climb a hill lest he stake himself out; his coat strikes him about midships; and is of the very latest novelty in material and colors; he wears the “loudest” hat in Austin, thus being so far of the regular travels of fashion as to be odd, and he proudly pulls out a fashion book he carries, if you remark on his dress, to show that he is in style while you are woefully left; he usually parades the Avenue with a measured step that leaves the erroneous impression in the eyes of beholders that he is in misery – and he, too, fearing that he may make a false step and disgrace himself by walking with step that is undudelike.

When he walks the streets after office hours in the afternoon, to exhibit his many points of beauty, he never turns his head to the right or to the left, except to make a stiff and dignified bow to a passing congressman, or United States senator, or active governor, or to make one of his elaborate salaams to a lady acquaintance. This is his main point. He considers that when he stops in his soul-inspiring efforts to attract public gaze and admiration long enough to make a bow to a lady, that it is a coup de main in the social world. He never suspects that the ladies are convulsed with laughter at his expense. He never lets the thought find lodgment in his infinitesimal brain that people treat him with so much tenderness because they regard him as placed under their care by a special Providence that expects the strong to care for the weak.

He never allows himself to come into contact with any one while in exhibition attire; he will have a crowded street car before he will allow anyone to touch his clothes. He is in Austin, and has it mildly, though becoming worse every day. Don’t be afraid of him, he is harmless, and has an idea that all the intellect in man is to be known only as it can sniper, and fawn and dress and affect airs and attract attention, and ape, and show as little common sense as possible. He is generally very good-natured, though, if you dare approach him; and so it is not right to make fun of him.

July 7, 1883

A real, live dude created quite a sensation on the streets of the capital yesterday.

November 2, 1883

The following humorous sketch of one of Austin’s famous fellow citizens is clipped from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

There were several pen scratches on the register at the Southern hotel to-day, which had the general appearance of a party of spreeing bloods on suits. With the aid of the clerk and a few bystanders, a reporter managed to decipher the name, “J. Armory Knox, Texas.” The reporter’s labors were just ended when a thin-faced man with English whiskers and moustache of uncertain color, a plug hat and wellington boots, the tout ensemble of an eastern dude, sprinkled with a concentrated extract of Texas flower, appeared in the corridor. It was the Siftings man himself. It was learned from a passenger on the same train with Mr. Knox that he is sustaining his reputation as a fighting man, having slapped a Kentuckian in the face for having insulted a lady. “He was across between a dude and a broken-down sporting man and sailed hastily. But I had the whole car load to back me,” said the Texas terror, with a fierce glare in his eye.

 July 12, 1885

A Center Shot.

A young dude was standing on Pecan street yesterday, staring boldly into the face of every lady passing. Presently two stylish ladies passed, and, as usual, the “masher” gave them one of his killing stares. The young lady thinking this an opportunity to teach a wholesome lesson, placed her hand in a paper sack she was carrying, and drawing forth an unwholesome peach drew back her right hand and let the masher have the peach in the right eye. It was a center shot, and ought to be a lesson to some of Austin’s young dudes.

And my personal favorite, from December 1, 1883:

The City Dude.

A hat

not flat

but round

and crowned

with dome of straw or felt.

A brow of snow,

and * my eyes that

glow and melt with love

or ardor never felt.

but wreck I make

of ladies’ hearts I know.

This manly breast beneath

my vest the clothier’s skill

doth show, a glittering pin my

scarf stick in, I mash where–

e’er I go; with dainty smile

the girls beguile, I’ll mash

where ‘er I go; and so ’tis plain

a jaunty cane makes up my style

as down the street the ladies meet

and greet me with a smile;

a slender waist just to my

taste more shapely form hath

never graced; my bobtail coat

like Billy goat as I !!!!

go by to every eye

reveals to view to

all or few the fitness

of my pants

reveals my legs,

which though

but pegs serve me

so well to walk

or dance as with

a girl I take

a whirl or in the

mary prance;

the tailor’s art

doth so impart

a charming

ease that’s

sure to please.

Next are my

feet in calf so

neat, the ladies all

both great and small,

or maid or prude demure or rude,

cry out and shout oh what a dude!

mm mm

Is That a Six-Shooter in Your Pants or Are You Glad to See Me?

June 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

Back on April 29, it was Ben Thompson day in Austin. First, a graveside ceremony with a plaque correcting his birthdate and recognition for his service in the Confederate Army. Followed by a Ben symposium at the Austin History Center.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson was a featured speaker. He was also the driving force behind Texas’ current concealed handgun laws, and carries his pistol whenever he goes to the park, Big Bend included. Did so when it was illegal. He made it legal.

In his talk, the Commissioner obviously touched on Ben’s prowess — and reputation — with a six-shooter, but he also spoke of the now vs. then mentality in Texas concerning concealed weapons. Back in Ben’s day, during the 1880s, the outcry was for legislation prohibiting the wearing of concealed weapons, such as a six-shooter under or in your coat, pocket, wherever. Precisely to bring to an end the desperado/pistolero era in Texas, of which Ben was considered to be a high-ranking member. Certain men, like Ben, however, were allowed to carry concealed weapons when their life was considered in danger; Ben’s life certainly was. He told a friend late in life, “Yes I’m afraid it’s too late. I know it is. If I were to attempt any legitimate business, nobody would believe in me. You could not make people believe I would do the square thing. Then suppose I undertook to live peaceably, some bully would attempt to make a reputation by getting away with me. I would have to kill him; then would come courts, bonds, lawyers, fees, etc., all requiring a bushel of money. I couldn’t make a bushel in legitimate business. This is a dog’s life, though. Wish to God I was out of it.”

Ben was right to be concerned; he and King Fisher were shot to death in San Antonio at the Vaudeville Theatre, late in the evening of March 11, 1884. There is evidence that suggests a planned assassination, but Ben was also a fool for walking into the same place where he murdered Jack Harris, one of the owners, who was also an old friend from the Civil War days, less than 2 years earlier. But Ben was as drunk as a lord that night, anyway, and was in piss-poor shape for a face-to-face rencounter.

Ben’s death was a sensation and heightened the demand for an end to the concealed weapons era in Texas.

On Friday night, April 25, the Rev. G. W. Briggs delivered a lecture in Galveston’s Tremont Opera House, entitled “The Six-Shooter.”

Ladies and Gentlemen: The subjection which I have been invited to address you to-night has been furnished me by the newspapers. It might properly be called the newspaper crusade.

The pistol that killed Ben Thompson seems about to kill itself. The shots that echoed through the Vaudeville theater have been heard throughout the land. Since then the newspapers have declared “the pistol must go!” Nearly every important paper in the South has taken part in the discussion, and they are almost unanimous as to the remedy.

Says the Galveston News: “Society in Texas has progressed to that point where its conservative elements are strong enough to demand the overthrow of the barbarous reign of the knife and the pistol. “The pistol must go, and law and order take its place.” Says the San Antonio Times: “Pass stringent laws and the six-shooter must go.” Says the Atlanta Constitution: “The chief trouble is that this practice of carrying the pistol is not confined to the bully and the coward, but young men of good character adopt the custom, foolishly associating it with the idea of bravery and manhood.” Says the Nashville American: “There ought to be a crusade against the pocket pistol. It should be a penitentiary offense to own or carry one, and a hanging offense to manufacture one in a civilized country.” Says a Northern journal: “The whole business of manufacturing them should be suppressed. All notices printed or written informing people where they can be bought should be excluded from the mails, and all persons sending such notices prosecuted, fined and imprisoned.”

When so many influential papers agree as to the existence of a gigantic vice, it is the duty of the people to look into the question.

Suppose you had come to this lecture to-night armed with shot-guns, as if it was a land league meeting in the land of O’Donovon Rossa. And yet, from all that I have read, I dare not ask a show of pistols lest I should frighten the ladies out of the house. Suppose your merchants went down Tremont street every morning with shot-guns in their hands or a servant following and carrying each man’s arsenal? And yet I am told that every other man you meet is an unexploded powder magazine. Suppose every business house on the Strand had Gatling gun in the counting room trained on the door, and a stand of arms at each employee’s desk? And yet I am told that nearly every business desk has a loaded pistol in it, and every quiet merchant, as he fingers his watch chain and agrees with you about the price of a cask of bacon is ready to explode at the drop of a hat! And the thing grows doubly amusing when you reflect that the average man can not hit anything he shoots at. It is usually not the man aimed at but the bystander who catches the load. If the practice is to be kept up I propose that a chair of pistol-shooting be introduced into the curriculum of the State University, and as soon as Ben Thompson’s successor qualifies, put him in charge for the benefit of the rising generation.

The pistol creates the bully, and the bully is the shame of our modern civilization. Bill Longley, when confined in this city, said to an acquaintance of mine that he was so expert with the pistol that he could tantalize an enemy until a weapon was drawn, and then kill him before the weapon could be used, thus keeping inside of the law. I have heard from good authority that Ben Thompson relied on this, and made it his continual practice.

On May 11, 1884, the Fort Worth Daily Gazette bellowed:

“Let lt Stay.”
The sentimental journalists of Texas are at this time engaged upon one of their maudlin and periodical attacks on “the pistol.” They shriek in chorus “the pistol must go” and, according to the nervous organization of the scribe, write passionately or temperately of the necessity for the departure of the “little pop.” Now, why should the pistol go? What has the pistol done that it should but incontinently hustled out of sight and use? Nay, do not the brethren themselves but inveigh in the abstract against the pretty piece of mechanism that has made so much news for the enterprising newspaper and, thus, themselves, given the strongest and most practical of negative to their sentimental affirmatives? What newspaper in all the land dare to belittle the gun in the concrete? But again, is not the work of the pistol the royal road to fame in this civilized land — in this enlightened nineteenth century? And do not the newspapers admit its potency when they write so pathetically of the murdered man and his wife and orphans at a distance and maintain such an eloquent silence concerning the rich murderer’s pistol practice on poverty-stricken white men and “niggers” at their own doors? Who can –who shall — deny the potency of “the gun?”

Is it not indeed an instrument by which men achieve fame? Jesse James with his pistol stopped railroad trains, rifled mail pouches, murdered conductors and helpless passengers, robbed men women and children and yet when he died as he had lived was it not the newspapers that howled about the “deep damnation” and the cowardly treachery of his taking off.

Ben Thompson with his pistol sent from fifteen to twenty men to the other world while he lived and walked the streets of the capital of Texas, a red-handed murderer, which newspaper dared to allude to him otherwise than as “Capt., Major or Col. Thompson, the genial companion,” etc. Is not Ben Thompson’s life and exploits with the little pistol now in the hands of thousands of boys, and was it not written by a distinguished lawyer who is said to be an aspirant for a high civic honor, in which place he would be expected to inspire a respect for law.

A San Antonio paper says, “the pistol must go,” and yet does that paper denounce the Vaudeville theater, where the crack of the little gun has oft reverberated and where human life has so often been endangered and lost? Cunningham took his pistol and shot poor Fleming to death on the streets of Fort Worth and a jury of his peers assessed the penalty as they would had the crime been theft of a forty dollar cow pony instead of murder. Willis Adams took his pistol and shot an unarmed man to death in Dallas after unbearable insult had been heaped upon his victim, and a Judge of the law considers it a bailable case and no Dallas journal protests. Frank James and his little pistol are credited with having aided in robbery on the highway and in murder; he is tried, bailed and feted and toasted.

A telegram to THE GAZETTE Friday stated that the jury in the case of Ike Loeb, charged with the murder of Emanuel McClarty, colored, brought in a verdict of not guilty. Loeb was warmly congratulated. And thus it goes by telegraph day in and day out: “The jury in the case of Mr. So-and-so, who was charged with murder brought in a verdict of not guilty!” The little pistol gets in its work and gives fame to its owner but never commits a crime! The law as administered takes care of the slayer, and it is the widow and the orphan the little pistol makes who must take care of themselves.

All over Texas — all over the South and over the Union – the work of the pistol goes on, the newspapers cry out, in the abstract, “the pistol must go,” and yet dare not find flaw in the verdict of juries or the decisions of judges. Public opinion has elevated the pistol and made it a means to attain fame. It will not go. Newspapers are insincere in denouncing it; lawyers uphold it as productive of rich fees. Judges do not discountenance its work; public opinion applauds its performances by acquittal or nominal punishment and even fair women vie with each other in slobbering over red-handed murderers. Let the pistol go. Why, the pistol is the mark of our civilization and Texas should inscribe it upon the state arms. Vox populi, vox Dei. The people have declared the pistol an adjunct of our civilization and the pistol will not go. Then let every decent, law-abiding man buy him one and be at least on equal terms with the bully and desperado who would take advantage of his helplessness and shoot him down like a dog. The law, judges, juries, the people nil glorify the pistol. Why do the heathen Journalists rage in the abstract and imagine a vain thing?

The pistol will not go.

Saloons weren’t faring much better, either, since they were considered to be walking hand in hand.

“Car toon,” an old friend of Ben’s, wrote: THE SALOON INFLUENCE: This is, perhaps, the leading evil of the times. It is the foundation of more than all other influences combined, and yet it has come to pass that a saloon-keeper occupies at least a semi-respectable position in society. He is especially recognized by that part of the public known as the political world. In fact, it goes without question that this influence is to-day the greatest power in shaping public political sentiment. Any man who is opposed by this influence gets little or no encouragement from the office-makers. Almost any political convention, although assuming to represent a party having great and vital principles (?), will virtually “sit down upon “any man whom this Interest opposes. He is not “available.” It is this interest that fosters and protects the next greatest evil factor.

“Are there any real ‘bad’ men In Texas now?” a Washington Post reporter asked Sheriff Rowan Tucker, of Fort Worth, one of the best known officers of the Lone Star State, at the National Hotel, in March 1894.

“I don’t know of a single one that would come in that category,” was Tucker’s answer. “The day of the desperado is over in our country. No duplicate of Ben Thompson is a possibility of the future. The last of the boys with a reputation as killers was a citizen of my town, Luke Short, who died a peaceful death a few months ago. Most of his predecessors died with their boots on. Luke was a quiet little chap, big-hearted and unaggressive. He had a taste for books rather than homicide, but fate put it in his way to rernove some eight or ten men who were reckless enough to cross his path. But Luke never shot a man in cold blood, and the world wasn’t any loser by the taking off of his victims. He was popular in business circles, and couldn’t say no to anybody that struck him for a dollar.

“Ben Thompson had the reputation of having killed twenty-eight men, which he owned up to once when drinking, though he explained that he hadn’t reckoned Mexicans and darkies in the total.
The main reason why killings are fewer now is that the men have, to a great extent, ceased drinking so much red liquor. The brewery has been a great institution for Texas, and the more breweries we get the lower the death-rate.”

I won’t quarrel with Sheriff Tucker’s pronouncement that the brewery has been a great institution for Texas, but I might quarrel with his prediction that the more breweries Texas got, the lower the death rate. I can’t quarrel with current statistics that show the annual murder rate in Texas has gone down since 1996, but I don’t know that the decrease can be attributed to the concealed handgun laws.

Bottom line:

Wear ’em outside, wear ’em inside. No Matter. In Texas, the pistol will not go.

When a Poke Is Still a Poke, But Fly Is No Longer Fly: The Peculiarity of Criminal Palaver

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Like any other form of language, “Criminal Jargon” evolves with time and needs translation for wide segments of the contemporary population. Today, we’ll take a “then and now” look at this most colorful subset of the English language.

Here’s a bit of today’s gangsta slang translated for your edification, courtesy of the artist, Big L, from his album, The Big Picture; the song, “Ebonics.”

Yo, pay attention
And listen real closely how I break this slang shit down

Check it, my weed smoke is my lye
A ki of coke is a pie
When I’m lifted, I’m high
With new clothes on, I’m fly
Cars is whips and sneakers is kicks
Money is chips, movies is flicks
Also, cribs is homes, jacks is pay phones
Cocaine is nose candy, cigarettes is bones
A radio is a box, a razor blade is a ox
Fat diamonds is rocks and jakes is cop
And if you got rubbed, you got stuck
You got shot, you got bucked
And if you got double-crossed, you got fucked
Your bankroll is your poke, a choke hold is a yoke
A kite is a note, a con is a okey doke
And if you got punched that mean you got snuffed
To clean is to buff, a bull scare is a strong bluff
I know you like the way I’m freakin’ it
I talk with slang and I’ma never stop speakin’ it

Chorus: repeat (2X)

“Speak with criminal slang” -Nas
That’s just the way that I talk, yo
“Vocabulary spills, I’m ill” -Nas

Yo, yo
A burglary is a jook, a woof’s a crook
Mobb Deep already explained the meanin’ of shook
If you caught a felony, you caught a F
If you got killed, you got left
If you got the dragon, you got bad breath
If you 730, that mean you crazy
Hit me on the hip means page me
Angel dust is sherm, if you got AIDS, you got the germ
If a chick gave you a disease, then you got burned
Max mean to relax, guns and pistols is gats
Condoms is hats, critters is crac… ad nauseum.

Now, here’s a taste of criminal jargon, 1882-style, as explained that August in the Austin Statesman, some of which has survived to this day. You be the judge of which epoch of criminal jargon  is more stylin’.

The Peculiarity of Criminal’s Palaver.
A man must be pretty well posted to understand the drift of what has become the current vernacular of the hardened criminals and “bad citizens.” Even in a city the size of Austin, the “vags” are not long in “catching on” to the latest out. We give some examples, as for instance, a cell is a “drum,” keys are “screws,” lights of any kind from a gas jet to an electric light are “glims,” and a bed is a “doss.” When a man is arrested, he is simply “pulled.” A prisoner is a “con,” which appears to be an abbreviation of the word, convict. A saloon is a “boozing ken,” and a well-dressed man is “swell cove.” A corpse is a “stiff,” and following analogy, a coffin is a “stiff box.” Strangely enough, the word stiff is also used in speaking of a message, a letter, or a note. For instance, if a criminal succeeds in smuggling a note out of jail, he is said to be “sneaking a stiff.” The victim of confidence operation is spoken of as a “bloke,” and, therefore, a “fly bloke” is one who, having been “played” for a fool, suddenly turns out to be rather smart. The word “cat” is often used as an adjective as a “cat restaurant” or a “cathouse,” the latter meaning a house of ill-fame and the former a restaurant where loose women cat.

In wider application of the term, “cat” is applied generally to women, though it is restricted among the more aesthetic criminals to loose women. A blow of the fist or club is a “slug,” a loaf of bread is a “dummy,” and the end of an unfinished cigar is a “snipe.” Small boys who gather cigar stumps are called “snipe-hunters,” a term also applied to an objectionable person to indicate that he is very low or degraded. The act of stealing is called “swiping,” and, as a kerchief is called a “wipe,” stealing a kerchief is called “swiping a wipe.” A newspaper is called a “giveaway,” a police officer as everybody knows a “cop,” or a “peeler,” and, as is equally well known, captured plunder is called “swag.” A safe-breaker is now called a “gopher-cracker,” and if a criminal desired to express the idea that a safe-robber had been sent to San Quentin, he would say, “A gopher-cracker has gone up the bean ranch.” Handcuffs are of course called “bracelets,” a thief is a “crook,” and the jail is the “jug,” and coffee is called “bootleg,” though for what earthly reason we cannot understand. A pickpocket is a “dip,” and a purse a “poke.” Therefore, if a man steals a purse from a pocket, he is said to “dip a poke.” Shadowing a man is “piping him,” and hence, if you desire to call attention to a neatly dressed man on the street, you say, “Pipe the guy.” A pistol is called a “pop,” which is peculiarly appropriate, a knife is a “shov,” and serving out a sentence in jail is “doing time.” If Jimmy the Joker had been sent to San Quentin, he would be “doing time at the bean ranch.” A doctor has always been called a “sawbones,” and a hospital for the wounded a “slaughter house.”

A friend is called a “pall” or a “cove,” and a “rum cove” would be a smart and true friend. Clothing is called “togs,” and an overcoat is an “overtog.” Shoes or boots are “stamps,” a soft hat is a “caddie,” a stiff hat is a “dicer.” Shaking dice is “rattling the bones,” to deceive anyone is to give him a “fill” or a “gaff,” and if a hoodlum should remark, “I gave the blue belly a fill,” he would probably mean that he had succeeded in deceiving a police officer. A watch is called a “super,” a chain “slang,” and a diamond a “spark.” If a man should “swipe a spark,” he would steal a diamond pin and if he “collared a super and a slang,” he would have snatched a watch and a chain. A “rum cove might swipe a wipe, collar a super, give a blue-belly a fill, and yet get jugged and finally be compelled to do time at the bean ranch,” but if any one should relate the story to you in that language you would be more able to understand him that you would if he asked you for a “dummy,” a cup of “bootleg,” and a “doss,” in which word there is no clew to his meaning.

ICE Cold Beer

June 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Probably one of the most-uttered phrases of the Texas summer, at least in certain circles, which is how we generally stand or sit.

Yet Austin and most of the rest of Texas didn’t have ice-cold beer until after the Civil War, except in the winter. Galveston was a different story. The great sailing ships from the north brought huge blocks of ice packed in sawdust to Galveston, where it was unloaded and managed to make it into at least few drinks and perhaps cool a few kegs before it melted from the relentless Texas heat.

Austin got its first ice factory after the Civil War, but ice was much too dear and precious to waste on cooling beer.

Back in 1876, Mechanic’s Saloon would sell you a drink or mountain grape wine for a dime and a “city beer” for five cents. Or you could buy 12 pint bottles of Austin lager for buck. Finally, 125+ years later, we in Austin can again speak in terms of “a city beer,” although they cost much more than a Tommy Jeff these days at an Austin bar — more like an A-Link’n, what with tax and tip.

The first ice cold beer came to Austin a year later, spring of ’77, from St. Louis, as the Austin Statesman reported. “The International Depot was the scene of life and activity yesterday forenoon, many people having been attracted there to see the first refrigerated beer car ever bought to Austin. The ceiling, floor and sides of the car are all double, and the ceiling and walls are interlaid with Indian rubber which makes it almost airtight. The car was filled with keg and bottled beer for Mssrs. Brueggerhoff and Heidenheimer, and these gentlemen had a keg tapped and having taken the precaution to have dozens of glasses convenient, they were inviting people up to sample the beer.

So, when did “ICE cold beer” enter the Austin lexicon?

By 1880 Austin was awash in cold beer; it was no longer a novelty, it had become a necessity for both drinker and seller: The following ad ran in the Statesman on May 7, 1880: Bock! Bock! Bock! — Schlitz Milwaukee, ice cold, on draught, Monday May 10 at Charley Cortissoz, Simon’s Beer Hall, John Canovas’, Bell’s Saloon, A. Raggio’s, Jules Bornefeld’s Palace, the California store.

A month or so later, the amiable Charley Dyer, a long-time Austin beer-jerker, had taken over management of Pressler’s Garden (west of downtown on 6th Street) before you get to the river). He was advertising “ICE COLD Beer” and “secluded nooks for spooning” (we’re not talking ice cream or coke here).

So there you go. But ICE cold beer would not make it into the central Texas hinterlands until decades later. Even into the 1970s, old Bohemian farmers in the Czech country east of San Antonio took their Shiners “warm.”

All of which is a long introduction to the meat of today’s matter, a random, staggered (in time, not gait) sampling of, and comments on, the latest in “city beer” (now that Austin stretches nearly to San Antonio, Houston, Waco, and Fredericksburg).

Here comes Lost Gold India Pale Ale, hopping down that pink rabbit trail. It was Easter Sunday, and I was sweating over a pit full of pork butt, Meyer’s Elgin sausage, wild-caught Gulf shrimp and ground-chuck patties. ‘Twas manly work that required manly beverages. I had a smorgasboard of area-crafted brews with Hill Country themes to slake my thirst. Thank the Lord for HEB’s mix-and-match six-packs. I started with Independence IPA, brewed (for now) by Real Ale out of Blanco. I popped it with much anticipation, since every one of their offerings has been a real winner. But as many a newly liberated country has discovered over the centuries, “Independence” ain’t all its cracked up to be. And Independence IPA wasn’t. How could you, Real Ale? Or, rather, couldn’t. it did not step up to the plate, at least not to what I was going to be dishing out.

But the next day I discovered that Real Ale is only brewing Independence under contract for a San Antonio entrepreneur, until he can get his own kettles boiling. So, Real Ale, all was forgiven.

With hours to go before the feast began, I was feeling a bit peckish, so I decided to assuage my hunger with some liquid bread, Independence Brewery’s Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout, so thick and rich you could practically stand a spoon in it. A brew that would have made the Scottish stone masons imported to dress the great granite blocks used to build our current state capitol right at home. But there were no Scottish stone masons at Convict Hill (Oak Hill), which supplied the limestone used in the capitol’s basement and foundation, and the convicts who did the quarrying got anything but stout on their near-starvation diet. While I enjoyed it, one was enough; it’s not a summer brew, unless you happen to be in Antarctica or Tierra del Fuego.

In honor of Kenneth Threadgill, Buck Steiner (Charlie Dunn’s boss), and all the other bootleggers from Austin’s Prohibition days, Bootlegger Brown Ale, also an Indepence flavor, was my next victim, a very malty concoction that I imagine closely resembles Kosmos Spoetzl’s original Texas Special Export (I used to have an unopened 1953 bottle of TSE, but never worked up the courage or sacrilege to open and taste it; I sold it to help finance my daughter’s birth). Hearty, but not too heavy for a hot summer day. I could have made quick work of several more of these.

As for Real Ale’s Lost Gold (Fool’s Gold), this IPA had more hop to it than a jackrabbit on crack. It left me breathless (in a happy sort of way), and I’m a hoppy kinda guy. But I cannot say I did not have fair warning, for the label (like the Bible) tells me so.

For the Memorial Day Feast, I chose the Shiner Family Reunion: two each of Bock, Blonde, Black Lager, Hefeweizen, Kosmos Reserve, and Brewer’s Pride.

Now, Shiner and I go back together the better part of 40 years. The owners of Shiner of Austin were among my best friends and introduced Shiner Bock as a year ’round brew to the world, starting in Austin. They sponsored the bike races I promoted. I came of age and courted girlfirends in the Brewery Hospitality room with Speedy Biel and Mr. Herbert Siems. We would ride our bikes down there, get as full as ticks with good old Shiner Premium (Mr. Siems ignored the wooden nickle rule with us.) and get a lift back with our designated driver, with a stop in Luling or Lockhart for BBQ. Those rides led to a chapter in my Central Texas book, The Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage, and a mass bike ride, the GASP, which is stronger than ever after 30+ years.

But all things must change. Carlos Alvarez, who chose Shiner of Austin to help introduce Corona beer to the USA, bought our beloved little brewery, and things began to change, and to my way of thinking, not for the better. Shiner Premium was dropped in favor of the vapid Blonde. Prices rose to boutique levels, without a corresponding change in taste quality. At $6.99 a six, Bock was not as an attractive buy as before. It was a great $3.99 beer, but at $6.99, there were more compelling choices.

To its credit, the not-so-little brewery began producing varietals meant to justify boutique prices. Bohemian Black Lager is Shiner’s darkest brew, “nearly opaque in color and yet still approachable in taste.” These are significant words, “yet still approachable in taste.” They cut across pretty much the entire line of Shiner’s brews. Pretty good, but in the end, pulling their punches. For every variety, you are going to find someone else’s brew, with a bigger set of balls, for the same price. That’s just the way I swing. I don’t want a brew that is “approachable in taste.” I shed my beer training wheels decades ago.  “Approachable in taste” is for those looking tentatively to step up from Bud Light. Except for the vapid Blonde, they are all pleasant enough beers, but not worth more than $10.99 a 12-pack, which you will on rare occasions find.

I readily admit to not having tasted every Shiner varietal on the shelves. One that I have tried and liked, that stood up the “Shiner Family Reunion,” is Ruby Redbird. Beer with Ruby Red grapefruit juice and ginger? I was skeptical. But it won me over. It is indeed a great summer brew, served ice cold on hot summer days. The Munich malt and Mt. Hood, Citra, and Cascade hops do act to balance the flavor well, to the point that the grapefruit juice flavor I so feared was pretty much lost in the mix.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare lagers, wheats and Bocks with ales, but I find that Real Ale’s products have yet to fail me when it comes to authoritative yet pleasing taste. They’re like Teddy Roosevelt in a bottle. And I’m a TR fan. He was a Republican I could vote for. Two of their newest varietals, Phoenix double ESB and Devil’s Backbone Abbey style Ale, are as advertised, “complex” and “intriguing,” just the way I like my brews and my women.

In a recent post about a trip to Fredericksburg, I mentioned the region’s newest bottle brew, Lobo Beer, available by the seis at local stores. Brewed by Pedernales Brewing, there are currently two flavors: a Lager and Negra. We chose Lager, which was hoppy pert near to an IPA. Very enjoyable on a hot Hill Country afternoon.

And a final chapeau, to Austin Beerworks, which has chose to partition its boutique-price output via aluminum can. And what’s more, they ain’t apologizing for their choice; “We make bold and clean ales and lagers and put them in cans so they’ll get cold quicker and stay good longer.” I’ve only had their Fire Eagle American IPA. Maybe a can keeps the beer fresher, but it sure tastes better from an iced, thick beer mug. Out of the can and into the stein, and I was hopping like the Calaveras County frog.

And the journey continues.

It’s the End of the Word as We Know It

June 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

People have been fretting about the debasement of the English language for centuries. Nowadays, the worry is about texting. Just Google “texting language deterioration” and you’ll get more than 400,000 hits, with questions and declarations such as “Is text messaging destroying the English Language?” “Why text messaging has caused the deterioration of proper English usage.” “How texting is wrecking our language,” ad (almost) infinitum.

Well, 130 years ago, “brevity” and “slang’ were the linguistic controversies of the day. And when you think about it, texting is all about brevity. And as the following editorial points out, not everybody thought brevity bad in the 1880s. There was a general sense of optimism then about the future, and the marvels of science and technology that were going to make life better, than exists today.


How Abbreviation Keeps Pace With The Times.

The tendency of the age is abbreviation. Steamships are steadily shortening voyages across the ocean; railways are shortening voyages across the land. The telegraph is shortening the intervals of intercourse. The telephone is shortening the abbreviations of the telegraph. The telescope is shortening the distance to the stars. Supreme court decisions are shortening the general confidence in the law. Slang is shortening the luxuriance of language by the substitution of inelegant conciseness. “Dude” is shorter than “dandy,” and means more. “Monkeying” is shorter than “cutting monkey shines,” and is humorous as well as compact. “Collided” has always been a regular past tense of “collie,” but till the condensing reported forced it on an unwilling public, it was always deemed inelegant to say anything but “came into collision.” Now comes “suicided” for “committed suicide” and why not? The purists will gossip and even the liberal scholar will admit that if it does not “break precision’s head,” it thumps it. But why not put one word for three, when the one says all that the three possibly can? Are we to say that language is fixed, when there is not a year that passes without the addition of a thousand words of science or slang? If not fixed, what better change can we make than to shorten it? What we lose in grace we gain in grit. Force is better than elegance. No man ever commanded men or advanced a cause by periphrases. “Stamp it out,” says force. “Proceed by severe measures to repress it,” says elegance. “Suicided” sounds queer; we’re not used to it, that’s all that’s the matter with it. But why not make a verb of the noun “suicide” as well as of the noun “mistake” or the noun “home”? We say “the farmer was mistaken when he housed his cattle so late.” Why not say “the victim of disappointment suicided when he collided with insuperable difficulties,” instead of “going all round Robin Hood’s barn” with these periphrases: “the victim of disappointment committed suicide when he came into collision with insuperable difficulties”? The reporter is the language reformer. When the time is short from the pen to the press, the “case” must have as little to do as possible, and the reporter must make one word do the work of three. In ten years “suicided” will be as good a word as “derided” or “confided.”

I don’t understand the writer’s preoccupation with the word “suicide” and its variations, nor what “good” means (I assume it means something like “commonly used”) but let’s take a look at the predictions he made in the last sentence above, in the light of today. The results of my Googling:

“suicided”: 535,000 and the question, “Did you mean suicide?”

“committed suicide”: 12.9 million

“confided”: 13.7 million

“derided”: 3.6 million

Final verdict: “suicided” — Accepted, but not embraced.

And as to how you would “brevit” any of those words for texting or tweeting, I haven’t a clue. I’m guessing they wouldn’t be used at all.

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